“I do not believe that our country, this great nation that our Tribal citizens have fought and died for, wants to return to the dark days of taking sovereign Indian land away from indigenous communities,” Chairman Cromwell previously said. (Copyright © 2018 NativeBusinessMag.com. All rights reserved.)
A Wednesday morning tweet by President Donald Trump incited Republican opposition to two Tribal bills just prior to a vote, and the GOP responded by taking the measures off the table.
One bill, H.R.312, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, was supported by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom the President maligned as “Pocahontas” in his tweet. The bill is also opposed by a lobbyist, whose wife works for Trump: White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp.
The bill was scheduled for an expedited House vote Wednesday, requiring a two-thirds majority to pass, reflecting its wide support.
Trump’s tweet momentarily derailed those plans:
“Republicans shouldn’t vote for H.R. 312, a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren,” Trump said. “It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act would reconfirm Mashpee Wampanoag land in trust — and could not be challenged in court.
The second bill in question, H.R.375, would assert that Tribes, regardless of date of federal recognition, can restore their homelands through the land-into-trust process.
Trump’s intervention is yet another twist in a long saga for the Mashpee Wampanoag, who finally received federal recognition in 2007, and in 2015 experienced a short-lived victory when the Department of the Interior took into trust 170 acres of land in Mashpee and an additional 150 acres in nearby Taunton, Massachusetts (the 320 acres briefly restored represents a small fraction of what was the Tribe’s original lands, which stretched from Cape Ann into Rhode Island).
Shortly after those lands were taken into trust on the Tribe’s behalf, a group of local residents filed suit in federal court to challenge the Department’s action and invalidate the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s claim to trust status. In a devastating September 7, 2018 ruling, the Interior Department rescinded the 2015 federal designation holding land in trust on behalf of the Tribe.
A Tribal land base is the foundation for Tribal economic development, Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell has declared time and time again.
The derailed bipartisan casino bill would confirm the Tribe’s right to some 320-plus acres of land — including the site eyed for its casino in Taunton.
But it’s Rhode Island lawmakers who are concerned the casino would impact business over the state line. Mercedes Schlapp’s husband, American Conservative Union Chairman Matthew Schlapp, is lobbying for the owner of both Rhode Island casinos: Twin River Management Group. “The singular focus on Warren appeared to reflect a strategy embraced by [Mercedes] Schlapp,” The Washington Post reported.
A Democratic aide told the Washington Post that the Mashpee bill will likely go to vote next week under different procedures requiring only a simple majority to pass.
Passage would be monumental for the future and preservation of the Mashpee Wampanoag people.
“A Tribal land base is critical for the exercise of Tribal sovereignty, and for the protection and continuation of Tribal culture, and represents the foundation for Tribal economic development,” Cromwell previously said. “Having reservation land where we can generate Tribal revenue increases our self-sufficiency and decreases our dependence on federal funding and grants.”
“What is more,” Cromwell continued, “economic development on our reservation land will not only serve to benefit our members, but will also bring greater economic prosperity to surrounding regions. If our reservation is preserved, we will be able to create thousands of new jobs, and follow through on our commitments to help fund millions of dollars’ worth of local infrastructure improvements.”